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June 21, 2007

One of the PE teachers at my school is a black belt in Judo, and has started a Judo module in the PE section for first and second graders. I've been sick lately, but as I'm getting better, I want to try and get involved. He invited me to join him and some Uni students to watch their training after school yesterday. I was going to go, but then since everybody went into a meeting, and I decided watching wouldn't be that fun anyway, I decided I'd go to the gym instead, do a bit of practice, and then maybe join in next time.

Big mistake.

The gym is up in the hills, and completely inaccessible without a car. So, I was cruising along the narrow little country roads, when I got to an intersection. The intersection is coming off a narrow-as-hell bridge and onto a road, and has a sign which is an ambiguous cross between STOP and GIVE WAY (to someone from New Zealand). I really should read up on the specific road rules here, but I usually just take it as a STOP to be safe. Yesterday, however, there was a giant truck looking to turn in onto that bridge and not showing any sign of stopping. I took a quick look around, saw no traffic, and so continued through the intersection without stopping so as to avoid any unfortunate crushing.

About 100 metres or so further down the road, I was pulled over by the first roadside police setup I've ever seen. They were lying in wait to see who went through without stopping. I got waved over and into a bay, and wound my window down. You could see the look of despair on their faces when they saw I probably wouldn't speak much Japanese. And they were right. It wasn't hard to figure out why they'd stopped me though. So I went through the stop sign. I wasn't about to argue about it, so I just said fine. I gave them my licence, and they trotted off to their car to ask how to deal with a foreigner who doesn't have a real licence, just an international one and a foreigner registration card. I just sat there and waited for my fine, wishing I had have just stayed with the original plan to go to the University.

After a bloody long time, they came back to the car all flustered, and pointing at the date of issue on my International Licence. 20 June 2006. I was saying yep, but that's the date of ISSUE, not EXPIRY. It's not a year old. They pointed at their watch. Today is 20 June. OK. An international licence is valid for one year in Japan, right? Well, yes it is, unless it expires first. And as it turns out, International Licences issued from NZ are only valid for one year from issue. So, it expires 20 June 2007. So, since it's 20 June 2007 now, it's still OK, right? Nope, that's one year and one day. Your licence expired yesterday. You're currently driving without a licence. Step out of the car please.

Oh God, really? If there's one thing I know about the Japanese, it's that they're not one for bending rules, and they come down pretty heavy when you break them. So suddenly the situation was pretty serious, and I had no idea what to do, or what to say, or how to respons to their questions I couldn't understand. I couldn't get in touch with the English teacher at my school who I kinda know, because she was in a meeting. So I tried ringing a couple of other people on my cellphone, but got no replies. The police got me to take any valuables I might have out of the car, and give them the keys. I wasn't driving anywhere anymore.

After an hour or so, I got a reply from one of the other foreigners who I'd rung – one who also owns a car and is on her second year, so has probably knows something. She didn't. But, she said that she's try and get her English teacher to come with her and the two of them would come join me. So we waited. After no feedback, I rang again. She frantically said her school principal was on the phone to my school's principal, and they were trying to sort it out. Eventually, a car pulled up to us, and inside were the English teacher, and my school principal – neither of whom looked very happy about it.

After a huge logistical conversation, the car was taken back to park outside my house (upon my insistence that that was a better option than impounding), and I was transported home to receive my passport, then taken downtown to the nearest police City HQ. There I was taken into a tiny little room along with the English teacher as a translator, and a detective came in to ask me a few questions and take a statement. The whole time had been pretty intimidating, being surrounded by cops on the side of the road without knowing what they were saying, and even now, in the little interrogation room, although I had a translator, there's something unnerving about having a bunch of Japanese people in uniform talking sternly with each other around you and not being able to understand it then and there, or being able to put softening nuances on what you say back to their questions.

After an hour or so it was over, and I was out. I can't drive anymore, which is going to mean that aside from not being able to go to the gym, the supermarket, taiko or calligraphy anymore, also getting to my Primary Schools in the mountains is going to be impossible. The BoE has set up some sort of ramshackle system now to get me from one to the next – we'll see how it plays out tomorrow.

Now I just have to tread water until I appear in court next month!

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